LESSING Enters the Building

If one visited a German school for some years, and had to study the school subject “Deutsch” / “German”, chances are very good that one encountered Mr LESSING (1729-1781) (Ger., Eng.). A classic *. It is possible that our imaginary student read Sara Sampson (Ger., Eng.) (1755), and it is possible that he remembers the “Ring-Parabel” from LESSINGs Nathan (Ger., Eng.) (1779).
What would be a good thing, and I’d call it a success.
But what does it mean to be “a classic” ?
It is a label pinned onto some people, artists, writers, public intellectuals avant la lettre, right after they have lived their lives. Later generations of scholars reach a consensus, and finally agree that this one or that one embodies something that goes further than his own reach, something that is significant for an epoch, or a generation. Being labeled “a classic” afterwards, post festum, when already dead, and hence unable to discuss the reasons for this label, seems to be a little unfair. Flattering of course. Why do I talk about this here, when I want to tell about Mr LESSING ? Would he strongly reject to be called “a classic” ? Would he love it ?
I do not know. I have no deep enough knowledge about the man to make a serious suggestion, but I think one thing is for sure : He would not “just accept” it and smile. LESSING was not afraid of a public argument, in fact he was a flamboyant polemicist – and he was always – always – “marching to his own drum” **. This meant that he was not saving people he called friends from his public critique, even when this led to, well, unfriendly feelings. I think in the end, verity was the most powerful and true value for him, and of course the ability to think for oneself. And this makes him a classic of the age of enlightenment. And he formed the new or modern German theatre of the eighteenth century.
He was born in Kamentz in the Oberlausitz, right into a family of protestant orthodoxy. Conservative to the bone. His father loved him, and recognised himself in this son. LESSING years later – when his father had died – realised how similar they were, especially in their irascibility. Only after the death of my father I realised how similar I am to him, not a shock, but something that makes one think. Old LESSING wanted his son to study and made it possible by asking for a stipendium for his son, which was granted. And the son went and skipped the studies and wrote for the theatre, ach what a shame : THEATRE ! Whores, gays, polymorphous pervertism !
And the string of disappointments went on and on (money ! marriage ! family !) ; they both must have felt terrible at times.
LESSING went to Leipzig. Later to Berlin. Than to Hamburg – where he worked on the theatre again and wrote his famous Hamburgische Dramaturgie (Ger., Eng.) between 1767 and 1769. I skip dates – if you are interested in the time line, see the linked articles please. For some years he went away from it all – simply vanished without notice. Only months later he resurfaced in Breslau as secretary of the Prussian general Bogislav von TAUENTZIEN (Ger., Eng.) (1710-1791). He did the general’s letters, administration etc. and spent his free time playing cards and drinking : He (the classic !) lived as a gambler through these years, and even later seems to have had a weak spot for this kind of amusement.
I want to focus on his time in Wolfenbüttel.



* For the following I use & refer heavily on HILDEBRANDT, Dieter : Lessing. Eine Biographie. Reinbek 1990 (first : Lessing. Biographie einer Emanzipation. München Wien 1979)
** Many thanks to LẌ for clarifying in his comment to this post from where the expression origins.

15 thoughts on “LESSING Enters the Building

  1. Also von dem Gymnasium bin Ich nach der achten Klasse ab und ging damn in eine High School. Lessing haben wir da noch nicht gelessen. Oder ich habe es vergessen. Somewhere in this house I still have my little yellow Reclam books. I loved those books. A way, it was interesting to read about this classic gambler.

  2. Is this a Freudian misspelling “ging damn in eine High School” ? Was the High School so damnable, dear Foamsysuds ? If so, I am sorry for you.
    And the Reclam books – I also still have them – with all the drawings & doodles ! Could not bear to throw them away.
    These small, cheap booklets, they really were a good idea, poket size, reliable text, cheap – and they are still selling well. I remember when I used to stand in front of a wall high shelf filled with them in my favourite bookshop as a student.
    Achte Klasse is too early I think, I am not sure, but I think we had to read Schiller’s Räuber then. Later Brecht. But I think at the start (in eighth ?) it was Dürrenmatt, Der Richter und sein Henker (a real shocker), but surely Die Physiker. The Physicists was the first piece for theater we read, and we acted it out. My first appearance on stage, ahem.
    Lessing and Goethe (the damn fist) came later, Nathan perhaps in der Zehnten. Faust (one & two) surely in tenth earliest, more probably in eleventh.

    Lessing played cards (Pharao, and other games) seemingly a little bit more than socialy acceptable, at least for some time in his live ; and he was not unfamiliar with the bottle too.
    Schiller was in jail, but of course – who was not in those years ? If you read the list of inmates of the jail Hohenasperg near Ludwigsburg, you can write a kind of history of the literature in South-West Germany for the 18th and the 19th century. Usually the way was from Tübingen university to Ludwigsburg jail within the years between 19 and 25. But Freddie also used to sniff some strange stuff for inspiration from his desk’s drawer.
    Goethe had an undeniable drinking habit, it became worse over his last decades (“Ein Viertel Branntewein zum Aufstehen.” Cheers, darling, the day is yer friend …)
    Others had it with the ladies, while other writers of the enlightened age had not very nice character traits, and did not hide these in their letters.
    It was the new “Deutsche Literaturwissenschaft” of the 19th century (born out of purest Romanticism !) that put these humans on piedestals, and started to venerate. The more I like Hildebrandt’s long biographical essay, he does not want to venerate, he wants to show the man, he wants to (lovingly) understand – keine Heldengeschichtsschreibung here.

    In a second part I will write about LESSINGs time in Wolfenbüttel, his final years. Ich mag den alten Knacker.

  3. I did not know of Lessing. Thank you for bringing him to my attention. Flitting about from Leipzig to Berlin to Breslau, respectable job with a Prussian general by day, bon vivant by night, writer! How cool! Almost the Hunter S Thompson of his day!

  4. He could become pretty gonzo in his polemics, that’s for sure LẌ.

    Sorry afk now, it’s just 23:45, the magic number ! I have to get up in five hours.

  5. No, not a Freudian misspelling at all, but an autocorrect on my handy, my cell phone.
    Damn is supposed to be the German word dann. My handy does not want to write in German. It corrects everything and if I don’t catch those auto-corrects, it would appear as if I’d imbibed in ‘ein Viertel Branntewein zum Aufstehen’ while doing the social networking schtuff. I think I have Goethe’s Faust as a Reclam booklet.

  6. I just posted, but don’t see the comment. It’s been a while since I commented on a computer. Usually I do so on my handy, my cellphone which would explain the ‘damn’ which is not a Freudian mistake. It’s supposed to be the German word ‘dann’.
    My cellphone does not willing write in German. I have to watch carefully with my blurry eagle vision to try and catch any autocorrects. If I don’t do so, it appears as I were hanging out with Goethe to great the day with a “Viertel of Branntwein”.

  7. It is strange when I read about how people portray those who had died long before. I wonder, if you weren’t there, how did you come to the conclusion that this long passed away person was this way or that?

    And it’s interesting how some people fascinate us, especially after they’ve passed on and we reevaluate their life and their works.

  8. Hallo Mago..
    I did leave a couple more comments from a hardly used desktop computer (my son’s old computer). They are not here. Just thought I’d let you know.

  9. I noticed that You put Your glasses back on, dearest MsScarlet … enforces Your intellectual vibe.

    Angehievt and in command of a keyboard … haven’t we all been there ?
    I was very sure that it was “dann”, dear Foam. Your comments went to the spam folder for no obvious reasons, of course they are not lost. I think they went there because the name you used was “Foam” (of course), but the underlying email address was different from what wordpress knows as “Foam’s address”. This is in layman’s words, perhaps I am totally wrong, in fact I am only guessing.
    MAybe LẌ knows more – LẌ can You correct me please ?

    ” … if you weren’t there, how did you come to the conclusion that this long passed away person was this way or that?”
    This exactly is the black art we call writing history, dear Eroswings !
    Hence the tendency to write longish texts in large volumes. You have to explain how you, based on what source material, come to this or that conclusion : It is an endless discussion. But not without merit – and in some cases very useful. The narration of the past describing how it came to what is, is a very powerful tool. In the end it is about ruling, not only minds or “hearts”, but over the words, filling seemingly simple and innocent words with meaning. In every word is a judgement enclosed.
    This is something that drives me a bit around especially after the last gaffes of a certain German politician, who wants to re-write the modern German history. BUt this is too important, and I am too damn angry, to treat it in the comments section. I’ll post about this, when I am not yelling at the screen anymore.

  10. I am at a disadvantage as I have no insight into the spam filter rules. I do know if I put more than one link in a comment, it gets sent to the spam purgatory folder until Herr Mago rescues. So on the rare occasion where I might have two links, I include them in separate comments.

    The post footer shows Akismet is used against spam. When I click the “Learn how your comment data is processed.” link, there is a lot of stuff about privacy policy instead. ???

  11. Well, I just assumed that I became spam since I posted from a unrecognized computer. The IP address might be different. But really, I have no clue.

  12. This footer line about Akismet came up as a result of these European new law about privacy etc. LẌ. I use Akismet from the start, it is learning and doing its job really well. Generally the spam volume on my site is low. The program uses word detection, so a filter is generated, and anything manhood-related for example, is put into the spam folder. And it reacts to two or more links in one comment, as you said. WordPress asked me to activate this footer line as precausion in the wake of the mentioned European law.
    I folllowed Akismet’s actions not closely. I just look at the dashboard-page and if it shows something is in the spam folder I look at this. Usually it is nothing else but spam. In the rare occasions that it is a comment from a reader, already known or new, I de-spam it, and then have to allow it in / to be shown. I think this is the step where Akismet learns – theoretically now any comment made by Foam from one of these other computers should go through unharmed.

    WOuld you like some eggs with your SPAM dear Foamsyspam ? I see that there is a Jalapeno-version too – not that you’d need another level of sizzeling hotness …

  13. FOAM

    I just went to Your site and commented – but there is only one possibility to be allowed to comment, as google user, that is blogger blogger. Earlier there was a list to choose from that included not only wordpress, but other “social” networks, and also “name / url” and “anonymous”. But there are no option shown at all. I do not think that you switched them off, I guess it is something google did perhaps also in the wake of these European law changes.
    I routinely copy commenst on blogger blogs, simply because I ahve enough of the frustration when they are eaten / vanish in the electronic orcus … So my comment is here. Sorry that I do not email it, but I am totally knackerd and need to go to bed asap, what is now.

    I am very glad that you posted something !


    HA !
    Dass ich dess’ noch erlebe’ derf !

    Pictures ! Dogs ! (Dweezil – son of Frank ?)
    I am very glad to see You active again, thank You ! It’s all right to take a little break now and then, isn’t it ?!

    I always was a night person, an owl, but since I am forced to get up in the ddm I really enjoy to see the sun come up on her daily business : It is somehow “enforcing” (perhaps not the best word for this, but she’s also working as an enforcer too, doesn’t she ? Or is it “he”, the sol invictus ?), and I like to stroll through the early morning towards my vehicle and then drive off into the sunrise. Twenty years ago this would have been unthinkable.

    Welcome back Foam(sy) ! Vielen Dank für’s Lebenszeichen.

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